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Gold Butte and Scanlon Dugway

Bob Norton | Writer
Posted August 1, 2011

Links to Lake Mead 4x4 Trails

Stunning scenery awaits the backcountry visitor to the Gold Butte Mining District and surrounding areas south of Mesquite, Nevada. This region is within a strip of land between the Overton Arm of Lake Mead to the west, the Arizona border to the east, and Lake Mead to the south. Several miles of roadway are designated as the Gold Butte Back Country byway by the BLM and are suitable for use by any high-clearance vehicle. Four-wheel drive is required to travel trails in the south. Remote access to the shore of Lake Mead is possible at several locations.

Vegetation and wildlife is abundant and varied as the elevation ranges nearly 6,900 feet. Life zones transition from the wetter mountains to the dry desert. Joshua Trees, yucca, barrel cacti, and other drought tolerant plants find the lower elevation desert suitable and are commonly observed at the roadside.

From Mesquite (1,600-foot elevation), a paved road steadily climbs and ultimately passes through a break in the Virgin Mountains. After stretching for 31 miles southward, pavement ends near a series of rusty red and tan sandstone outcrops. They exhibit unusual erosion patterns of cave-like holes and bowls; this site is known as Whitney Pocket. Rainwater that pools in the depressions here has been a valued resource for desert travelers since the time of early Native Americans (the Anasazi).

The Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) completed some work at Whitney Pocket from 1933 to 1942. A concrete dam was built at a crevasse in the sandstone in an attempt to catch water. Piping from the dam leads to a livestock watering trough. A nearby cave was walled in by the CCC. Parts of the walls are now disintegrating rapidly and a sign urges the public to assist in conserving what remains. In spite of CCC and cattlemen’s efforts to harvest the scarce water supplies, this region does not favor successful ranching. The summers are unbearably hot and often the winters are quite harsh.

Whitney Pocket (3,100-foot elevation) is a good location to dry camp. But, all campers must be responsible and respectful of the surroundings. As evidenced by some scarring of the landscape by a few fools, it is obvious that improved education is required for certain OHV users. They must be made aware of the importance of staying on approved routes to eliminate any terrain and resource damages.

On this trip, we (two Bobs from New Mexico) have again met up to drive our Jeep Cherokees on backcountry routes. This time, in and near the Gold Butte Mining District. After a late start from Las Vegas, Bob Telepak and I spend the first night out camped at Whitney Pocket.

At Mile Point 39 (from the downtown Mesquite starting point) the route divides. This is an intersection of which each branch forms a bidirectional loop to and from Gold Butte town site. Traveling southward to the left is the most direct route. Because the branch to the right leads past some good quality petroglyph (rock art) panels in 8/10ths of a mile and to other interesting sites, we traveled that direction. It is believed that some petroglyphs found in the Gold Butte region may be as old as 3,000 years.

A half-mile past the petroglyphs, the main byway continues to the northwest within Mud Wash. Here, we took a parallel branch to the left that leads to other petroglyphs in 3.7 miles. We pass a spur road that Bob said led to a colorful campsite. It was signed closed to vehicle access, so we continued on to view the next petroglyph panels. Unfortunately, many of the panels at this location show considerable weathering.

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